Reflecting on the Career of Adrian Beltre
Writer: Layten Praytor
Think of the happiest moments in your life. Think of the memories or events that have brought you the most genuine bliss and joy. Perhaps it was your favorite sports team winning a championship or a personal achievement that you finally accomplished. For a man like Adrian Beltre, this might be a difficult task to narrow down all of those moments.
Beltre announced his rather anticipated retirement earlier this week, bringing an official end to one of the greatest careers this sport has ever been witness to. After 21 seasons spanning across three different decades, four different organizations, and countless upon countless awards, the greatest Dominican born player to play major league baseball hung up his spikes on what will surely be a Hall of Fame career.
But if we take his marvelous career all the way back to its origin beginning in 1997 with the Dodgers, it clear at that that point this was not only a special talent, but a special person. After getting roughly half a season under his belt at the ripe age of 19, Adrian progressively went through the ups and down of being a professional athlete. He dealt with the injuries that would inevitably plague him throughout his 21 year career, he faced the challenges of adjusting constantly to what pitchers were trying to do to him, and he also faced the adversity of transition of a kid from a foreign country, to evolving into not only a man, but an eventual husband and father. Finally, at age 25 Beltre had had made a name for himself. In his final year in a Dodgers uniform, he hit 48 home runs and drove in 121 runs that year while batting .334 while playing his trademark defense at third base. He also finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2004 to rival Giants great Barry Bonds.
After spending seven years in Los Angeles, where he had compiled 147 home runs, 590 RBI, and 949 hits, Beltre made the first big decision of his career by moving on to Seattle. In doing so, he joined a Mariners organization that was desperate for a star to pair with Ichiro Suzuki after being mired in mediocrity following the departures of franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr. and all world talent Alex Rodriguez. Though he was fairly productive during his five year run in the Emerald City and made a life long frenemy in Felix Hernandez, Beltre’s final season with the Mariners in 2009 was one to forget as he was injured most of the season and was unable to produce anything more than eight home runs and 44 runs driven in.
In the aftermath of an unceremonious ending to his time in Seattle, Beltre signed a one year contract with the Red Sox who were willing to take a flyer on a player of his caliber even though he was coming off of a horrendous season the previous year. And man, did he not disappoint. Adrian came back in 2010 at age 31 with vengeance, playing 154 games while 28 long balls and 102 RBI with a .321 batting average. It was this season that was the turning point and a defining moment in the career of Beltre.
In the 2010 offseason, Adrian had made it clear that he wanted to return to Southern California and join a contender. However, it was not going to be the Dodgers, who had been an absolute grease fire under estranged owner Frank McCourt, and it was also not going to be in San Diego with the Padres who had not been relevant since the days of Town Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman. Not to mention the National League was probably not the best spot for a corner infielder in his 30s with an injury history This only left the Angels in Anaheim (I know the name says Los Angeles, but they’re not in Los Angeles.) The Angels were the ideal landing spot for the rejuvenated Beltre, as they had the advantage of being an American League team, therefore allowing him the option to DH in order to rest his legs. They also had one of the games best managers in Mike Scioscia, an excellent young pitching staff led by ace Jered Weaver, a solid group of position players led by veteran Torii Hunter, and an aggressive owner in Arte Moreno.
All that said, the Angels were not in the slightest bit interested in acquiring the services of Beltre. Instead, they opted to sign an aging and declining Albert Pujols the following winter in 2011 to a 10 year, $250 million deal that he has yet to live up to and that is still crippling the franchise. Oh, and the next year they signed Josh Hamilton to a 5 year, $125 million contract following the 2012 season. Yeah, the same Josh Hamilton they traded back to the Rangers in 2015 and paid $25 million a year to play against them.
So, who swooped in out of the blue and signed Adrian Beltre? Well the defending American League champion Texas Rangers of course. The Rangers were fresh off their first ever World Series appearance as well as their first ever American League pennant. Some kid named Jon Daniels was running the show as GM, and was doing a damn fine job, regardless of how much success is attributed to the return of Nolan Ryan to the franchise. Daniels led the charge to take a chance on the aforementioned Hamilton as he recovered from substance abuse with the Reds, and only proceeded help guide him to league MVP in 2010. Nonetheless, Daniels and the Rangers front office saw a golden opportunity and seized it, stealing Adrian Beltre from the Angels for a cool price of 5 years and $80 million. Thus, setting the tone of the AL West for the next six years.
After joining the Rangers in 2011, Beltre was an immediate hit, as he joined forces with guys like Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, Hamilton, and the kids in the middle of the infield, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. Oh, not to mention they picked up former Angels catcher Mike Napoli who became a beast instantly for the Rangers. This would be the core that would lead the Rangers back to the World Series in 2011, only to see it slip out of their grasp twice at the hands of the less talented, but better managed St. Louis Cardinals.
The band was subsequently broken up following an embarrassing collapse in September of 2012, as Young was abruptly shipped to Philadelphia, Napoli bolted to Boston where he would win a World Series with the infamous beards, and as for Hamilton, well he left in the middle of the night to go to Anaheim before ever even talking to the Rangers. But they always come crawling back though, don’t they? Not to mention Nelson Cruz was still around, but he was busy getting suspended for PED use in the middle of the 2013 season and never played for the Rangers again.
As for Beltre, he quickly ascended to the top of the DFW sports icon summit as he became the face of the organization following the departures of all those guys. He would become the one constant along with Elvis Andrus as the organization went through transition. Between an ill advised signing of Lance Berkman, the failed trade that was the Price Fielder/Ian Kinsler swap, the managerial change of Ron Washington to Jeff Banister, the two 95 loss season, and the dramatic defeats in the first round of the playoffs to the Blue Jays back to back years, Beltre was the glue that held it all together.
Though he was only able to participate in one World Series and was never able to even win one, he’ll be the first one to tell you that he could not imagine finishing his career anywhere else but Texas. He had found a new home in the Lone Star state, and along with it cementing his Hall of Fame legacy. During his tenure in Texas, Adrian played a little over 1000 games, most of which he was not 100% healthy for, while batting .304 along with 199 home runs and 799 RBI during an eight year career in Arlington and forcing himself into the conversation as arguably the greatest Ranger of all time.
The accolades and statistics are amazing, no question. But what will you, the fans remember more? The numbers or the memories? The countless hysterical spats with Elvis Andrus? Or the joy it brought to you when you saw a teammate try to touch his head? (Though it was not joyous for him I can assure you.) How about the signature off balance throw that only he could make? Let us not forget about all the times he would hit a homerun on one knee. And, last but not least, we cannot leave out this jewel.
But beyond the five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers and All Star appearances, beyond the 3000 hits and 400 home runs, one thing remains the same; Adrian Beltre the human, not the professional baseball player, is what we should remember most about his time in uniform. He showed up day in and day out whether he was injured or not, and had an absolute blast playing the game he loved. He was a model for not only what young boys should be as athletes, but also what they should be as a person and as a man. Here’s to you, Adrian. Thank you.